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What are stress and anxiety?

Do you find yourself constantly concerned over many areas of your life, including feeling nervous about small things like being on time or worrying even when things are going well? Or do you often feel jumpy or become angry when anyone disturbs you? Maybe you can’t concentrate on things as well as you used to, or you break out in a sweat and your heart races for no obvious reason. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, they could be signs of stress and anxiety.

Stress and anxiety serve a purpose. They act as the body’s alarm system for dealing with threats or tense situations. The body and the mind prepare themselves physically and emotionally to deal with danger. But if the alarm never shuts off or if it goes off at high volume even for small concerns, stress and anxiety can become overwhelming and make it hard to carry out your daily routine.

“I thought I had put it all behind me so I didn’t know that my anxiety about going into certain situations was related to what I went through in the Persian Gulf.”

Some Veterans experience stress and anxiety because of past events — like combat or a traumatic military training experience — that are painful to remember or accept. Other Veterans are dealing with stress and anxiety because of other life experiences, like a job change or family conflicts.

Severe stress and anxiety sometimes cause physical symptoms, like trembling or shaking, or can lead to feelings of panic or unease. At high levels these conditions can also be associated with chronic disease. Over time, stress and anxiety can interfere with your work or daily activities and strain your relationships.

What can I do if I’m experiencing stress and anxiety?

  • Try to get enough rest.
  • Plan a schedule for your day to help manage the feeling of being out of control.
  • Practice relaxation and mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, to help cope when things upset you or don’t go according to plan.
  • Do something you enjoy several times a week, like seeing a movie or visiting friends.
“My counselors at VA showed me different techniques on how to deal with my anxiety attacks. They’ve given me a guide on how to live, because the anxiety stopped me from living because I shut myself off.”

It’s important to find ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Your close friends and family may notice the effects these conditions are having on your quality of life. Turn to them when you are ready to look for solutions. By sharing what you’re experiencing with them, they may be able to provide support.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments for dealing with stress and anxiety. If severe stress and anxiety are affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage hypervigilance even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans experiencing stress and anxiety.

Learn more about addressing specific concerns you may be experiencing as you encounter stress and anxiety, such as feeling on edge, depression, and posttraumatic stress.

AfterDeployment
This website has wellness resources for Veterans and Service members, including information and self-help tools for stress and anxiety and other issues they commonly experience.
www.afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-anxiety

Moving Forward: Overcoming Life’s Challenges
Moving Forward is a free online educational and life-coaching program that teaches problem-solving skills to help you better handle life’s challenges. While it’s designed to be especially helpful for Veterans, Service members, and their families, Moving Forward teaches skills that can be useful to anyone with stressful problems.
www.startmovingforward.dcoe.mil

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Stress and anxiety may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1